China's military spending exceeded $145 billion last year as it advanced a program modernizing an arsenal of drones, warships, jets, missiles and cyber weapons, the Pentagon said on Thursday, offering a far higher figure than Beijing's official tally.
The Pentagon's estimate, using 2013 prices and exchange rates, was 21 percent above the $119.5 billion figure announced by China. It was detailed in an annual report to Congress that cited steady progress in Chinese defense capabilities.
It acknowledged that estimating Chinese spending can be difficult, in part because of "poor accounting transparency and incomplete transition from a command economy."
China's Defense Ministry, in a statement on its website, said it was "resolutely opposed" to the Pentagon report.
"Year after year the United States issues this so-called report on 'Military and Security Developments in China,' making preposterous criticisms of China's normal defense and military building, exaggerating the 'China military threat', which is totally wrong," it said.
"As for the detailed contents of this year's U.S. report, we are currently assessing it, and will react further, depending on the situation."
The report came just days after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, using unusually strong language, accused Beijing of destabilizing the region in pursuit of territorial claims.
China claims almost the entire oil- and gas-rich South China Sea and dismisses competing claims from Taiwan, Brunei, Vietnam, the Philippines and Malaysia. Japan also has a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.